Originally published at Rubin Reports.
While President Obama’s State of the Union message was overwhelmingly domestically oriented, the foreign policy sections were most interesting.
The president began in the same neo-patriotic mode used in the second inaugural address, with a special emphasis on thanking U.S. troops. He used the imagery of the end of World War II paralleling the return of troops from Iraq to promote his idea that the American economy must be totally restructured.
Obama defined his main successes—careful to credit the military (whose budget he seeks to cut deeply and whose health benefits he’s already reduced) rather than his usual emphasis on taking the credit for himself—were the following points:
Iraq Withdrawal. It is true that U.S. forces are largely out of Iraq yet this was inevitable, with one key reservation. There was no likelihood they would be there in a large combat role forever. Whatever one thinks of the invasion of Iraq, the American forces were staying for an interim period until the Iraqi army was ready. Any successor to George W. Bush would have pulled out the combat forces.
The reservation, of course, is that it was the success of the surge—which Obama and his new secretary of defense (yes, he will be confirmed) Chuck Hagel opposed. So he is taking credit for a policy that was inevitable and that was made possible by a success that he was against.
Lest you think that assessment is unfair to Obama consider this: he did absolutely nothing to make this outcome happen. No policy or strategy of his administration made the withdrawal faster or more certain.
Osama Bin Laden. This is a strange phrase: “For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.” It is a new way of putting the “Obama killed Osama” meme while hinting that al-Qaida is not a threat to the United States. Well, as Benghazi shows, al-Qaida is still a threat but wording the sentence the way Obama did implies otherwise without saying so and looking foolish at making an obviously false claim.
Al Qaeda. Notice a very strange and ungrammatical formulation: “Most of Al Qaida’s top lieutenants have been defeated.” I think this can only be understood as an incomplete change in the traditional slogan that al-Qaida has been defeated. The administration can no longer make this argument so it is looking for something that gets in bin Ladin’s assassination and that of other al-Qaida leaders (al-Qaida has been decapitated) with hinting that al-Qaida has been defeated.
In other words, someone did a bad job of proofreading the speech. Of course, all of this glosses over the fact that al-Qaida hasn’t been defeated. It is on the march in Mali, the Gaza Strip, Somalia, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Yemen, and other places.
Incidentally, al-Qaida will always be defeated politically because it has no strong political program or structure. That’s why al-Qaida kills but the Muslim Brotherhood wins. And Obama is helping the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Taliban. As for the Taliban, again there is a cute formulation: its “momentum has been broken.” In other words, the Taliban has survived, it is still launching attacks, and it might even take over large parts of Afghanistan after American troops leave. Momentum has been broken is just a fancy way of saying that its gaining power has been slowed down. Of course, after American troops leave, that momentum will probably speed up again.
In his second mention of foreign affairs, Obama spoke of economic issues, he says:
One piece of political news that probably went unnoticed to most, especially among all the coalition-negotiation rumors, was that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering cancelling the Likud’s primaries.
An article about this was first published on Jan. 28th, just after the Knesset election on Israel’s Walla news site. Then, over the last few days it sprung up again in Ma’ariv/NRG and Yediot. Another Feb. 10 article in Ma’ariv claims that the Prime Minister intends to have the primaries cancelled before ministers are sworn into the government – that is, potentially in a matter of weeks.
To most people this is just internal party politics, but it’s really not. It directly affects the democratic nature of the State of Israel. In Israel, voters do not choose individual candidates, they choose slates. In effect, there are 120 legislators, but not a single representative. The candidates themselves are chosen via internal party processes – sometimes by a committee – a larger “central committee” or a smaller secretariat or selection committee – sometimes by the chairman, sometimes by the membership in an open primary. Those primaries are the only opportunity a citizen has to vote for an actual legislator, the only time a legislator directly faces a citizen and is held accountable for his record.
Unfortunately, only a few parties hold primaries. Likud and Labor do. This past election cycle, the Jewish Home held primaries, but only half of its list was chosen in the primaries, the rest by the central committee of T’kuma/the National Union. Kadima held primaries for its chairman, but cancelled its primaries for its list because it was expected to only get a maximum of 3 seats (in the end it got two). In total, about 42-3 Members of Knesset were chosen in primaries, meaning about 1/3rd of Knesset Members were chosen by actual people and not by party bosses. Even more unfortunate, is the fact that only a small percentage, something like three percent, of the public is eligible to vote in a party primary, and even less actually do vote.
But still it’s a start. If Israel won’t change over to a district-based electoral system (one representative per district), the only hope for the Members of Knesset being chosen by the people is through the primaries.
The alleged reason for cancelling primaries is, reportedly, that there are those who believe that the Likud’s list was too right-wing and that cost it votes and at the same time, not all party members voted for the party. Or in other words, the “settlers” registered to the party to push candidates like Tzipi Hotovely, Danny Danon, Ze’ev Elkin, Yariv Levin and Moshe Feiglin. The problem with that allegation is that there are many factions within the party who behave this way (like unions and members registered by vote contractors); there probably was a higher voting rate among settlers who were registered for the Likud then those who weren’t; and of the 11 seats the Likud-Beytenu list lost from its prior standing the Knesset, seven mandates worth of votes went to the right. Any internal party player, especially the Prime Minister knows all this.
It is true though that the primaries are intensely manipulated – by the various factions/MKs/branch chairmen/vote contractors (vote contracting, as I have explained elsewhere refers to the practice of registering people to the party and then kind of bargaining with their votes for personal gain). This is a huge problem. But this manipulation can only take place because so few people are registered to the party. Many of them are registered by internal players, who can trade on their votes.
If, on the other hand, a million or 500,000 people instead of 120,000 were registered to the Likud, and those people were registered by the party itself and not for any specific internal party player, it would be too hard for any vote contractor or even group, such as a union, to register and control the numbers necessary to manipulate the system. Vote contracting in its current powerful form, would be a thing of the past.
That would require an immense registration effort by the party over several years. That is very possible. In Israel, however, long term solutions, are not the preferred solutions. It’s easier and more seductive to maneuver one’s way to power, which in this case may mean canceling the primaries and concentrate power in the hands of an even smaller group of people.
The U.S. State Department has told Egypt it is “extremely disturbed” by the video of Egyptian police brutally beating and dragging a naked activist near the presidential palace as the Muslim Brotherhood makes the Obama administration’s enthusiastic welcome of the regime more problematic.
While the State Dept, omitted any terms such as “outrage” or “barbaric” in order not to offend Cairo, Egyptian media reported there have been at least two death-by-torture incidents. Many others are “missing.”
The State. Dept. was “extremely disturbed” only after a video was shown of the beating of the naked activist, Hamda Saber, but there has been no lack of evidence of previous brutality, similar if not worse than that imposed by Mubarak’s police force.
More than 60 people were killed in clashes against the Morsi regime the past several weeks.
The “new” Egypt now has to explain the death of Popular Current party activist Mohammed El-Gendy, 28, who was at Cairo’s Tahrir Square eight days ago. He died Monday following multiple fractures and brain damage, and Morsi has gone through the motions of ordering an investigation.
Also on Monday, 20-year-old Amr Saade died after clashes with the police outside the presidential palace.
“While many have been shocked by El-Gendy’s death, he is not the first to die of torture during Morsi’s rule,” human rights activist Hossam Bahgat said via Twitter. “You only know his name because he’s a political activist.”
The April 6 Youth Movement said on Sunday asserting that one of its members, Hossam El-Din Abdel-Hamid, was missing after having been detained by police.
“Abdel-Hamid was brutally beaten and is suffering from a severe injury and has not been referred to the prosecution until this minute,” April 6 stated. ”
“Most of those arrested [estimated at more than 600 since 25 January] are now being detained in… camps that are not made or equipped for detention,” Malek Adly, a rights lawyer told Ahram Online. “Unlike prisons or police stations, these camps aren’t equipped to provide prisoners with meals, so detainees are often left without food or water for long periods.”
With Egypt facing bankruptcy and political chaos, two years after the Arab Spring revolution that deposed Hosni Mubarak, Morsi faces increased opposition as Egyptian media leak details of police brutality against those who oppose him. The United States applauded the results of last year’s election because it was “democratic.”
The first American venture into making democracy safe for the Middle East was then-Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice’s excitement over the first – and last – democratic elections in the Palestinian Authority eight years ago. Hamas won.
Originally published by Rubin Reports.
OH! pleasant exercise of hope and joy! For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood Upon our side, we who were strong in love! Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!–Oh! times, In which the meager, stale, forbidding ways Of custom, law, and statute, took at once The attraction of a country in romance! –William Wordsworth, Poem on the French Revolution, 1789 A decent but very leftist British Middle East expert once described for me his experience in Iran in 1979. As a leftist, he had discounted any idea that Islamists might take over the country before the revolution, dismissing them as insignificant. But then he supported the revolution against the “reactionary, pro-Western” shah.
He had many friends among Iranian leftists. Quickly, he went to Tehran and scheduled meetings at the leftist newspaper established after the revolution. The newspaper was named with the Persian word for dawn, recalling—intentionally or not I have no idea—the words of another revolutionary romantic quoted above.
As he arrived, however, a cordon of revolutionary Islamist police held him back. The supporters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini were busy closing down the newspaper, ransacking the office, and dragging the journalists away to prison. The enthusiastic supporters of revolution, betrayed by their allies (Wordsworth’s “auxiliars,”) were discovering that it wasn’t their revolution at all. The “meager, stale, forbidding” laws and customs were coming back with a vengeance.
The left may believe itself to be “strong in love” but the Islamists have got the guns, money, organization, and the willingness (even eagerness) to kill for power.
This was not the first time in history such things happened. And now with the “Arab Spring” it won’t be the last either.
The leftist forces in the Arabic-speaking world as relatively weak but they can be disproportionately significant, especially in Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia. While Arab liberals have often been implicitly secular-oriented, it has been the leftists, Marxists to some degree, who have been militantly outspoken.
In recent years, though, the Arab left has also hitched its star to the far more powerful Islamists, reasoning that they, too, were against the regime and the West. “After Hitler, us,” over-optimistic German Communists proclaimed in 1932. In a sense, they were right since after the Third Reich’s fall the Soviets would make the survivors the puppet rulers of East Germany. But that’s not the scenario they had in mind.
Now Arab leftists are repeating that pattern. In Egypt, the left provided a youthful, pseudo-democratic cover at the revolution’s beginning that fooled the Western governments, journalists, and “experts.” Now the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t need them anymore.
Here’s a small example of that. The Egyptian leftist newspaper is al-Tahrir and its editor is Ibrahim Issa. He is now being investigated by the government prosecutor on charges of ridiculing the Quran and Sharia law as well as mocking Islam. Soon, people are going to be shot by Salafist terrorists on the basis of such accusations. For now, they just face trials and possible jail time.
What is worth noting is that just about anyone—in this case, as usual, it was an Islamist lawyer—can urge that charges be made against people who say something that offends the Islamists.
I was fascinated by one of the statements that got Issa in trouble. It was a very typical leftist theme whose equivalent is used about every five minutes in the United States and every day in these times by Obama Administration officials. Issa sarcastically remarked that if someone steals a wallet Sharia mandates that their hand be cut off but for stealing millions the punishment is far less harsh.
Issa certainly has guts. He was once sentenced to death under the Mubarak regime, and then pardoned by that dictator. But now there has been a supposed democratic revolution.
If the opposition cannot make such non-theological points how can it criticize Sharia and Islamist rule at all? And while Issa may be defiant, most will be deterred from speaking out or acting by fear of punishment. A common mistake is to think that repression is aimed at silencing courageous critics. Not really. It is intended—and usually works—in getting a far larger number of bystanders to shut up.
For the past couple of years, the line pushed hard by the American Jewish anti-Zionist Left — the ones that love Israel so much they want to destroy it in order to save it, Peter Beinart, J Street, Thomas L. Friedman, Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Reform Movement, the New Israel Fund, etc. — has been that American Jews have become distanced from Israel because it has moved sharply to the right, abandoning democracy and liberal values, becoming a racist theocracy.
For example, here’s Friedman in December:
Israel’s friends need to understand that the center-left in Israel is dying. The Israeli election in January will bring to power Israeli rightists who never spoke at your local Israel Bonds dinner. These are people who want to annex the West Bank. Bibi Netanyahu is a dove in this crowd. The only thing standing between Israel and national suicide any more is America and its willingness to tell Israel the truth. [emphasis in original]
And here is Daniel Sokatch of the New Israel fund just a week ago:
If the polls are correct, on January 22, Israelis will elect the most right-wing government in Israeli history. It is likely to be even more hardline than the current coalition, on whose watch Israel’s relations with the Obama administration soured over disagreements over Iran, Israel’s expanding settlement enterprise, and the moribund peace process.
How many times do I have to say it? These idiots do not have a clue about what Israelis think, what their priorities are, and of course how they vote.
This election was anything but a victory for the right wing. The Likud, perhaps in part because of the replacement of some relatively moderate members of its list with those farther to the right, ended up with far fewer seats than predicted. Although the new Bayit Hayehudi party — among those, in Friedman’s words, “who want to annex [parts of] the West Bank” — did remarkably well, it too did less well than expected.
The big surprise was the second-place finish of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. Centrist, concerned with social issues — including Haredi draft-avoidance — and the cost of apartments and food. So much for theocracy.
Interestingly — at least, it should be interesting to Sokatch, Friedman, Beinart, et al — there was little discussion during the campaign of “the peace process,” “the occupation” and the “two-state solution” with which they are obsessed. Everybody in Israel, with the exception of the European- and NIF-funded Left, knows that the “peace process” is dead because there is simply no common ground between the Israeli need for security and the Arab desire to destroy Israel.
No, the issues uppermost in their minds are Iran — and here, most Israelis have confidence in Netanyahu — and questions of social and economic policy.
In other words, after survival, Israelis are concerned with how best to improve the functioning of their democracy, how to share the burdens and distribute the benefits of their free society — exactly the areas in which the patronizing liberal American Jews think that they know better than the ‘primitive’ Israelis!
Now that they have been proven wrong, will they shut up? Of course not. But they should. As a person who has lived in Israel and the U.S., who today is close to children and grandchildren living in Israel and therefore can compare the two systems, I can say that I am far more worried about the future of democracy in the USA than in Israel.
Yes, Israel lives in constant threat of war, but most of its people have better access to good health care than Americans do. Yes, the cost of apartments is astronomical, but I am confident that this will shortly change, while the goal of home ownership is moving farther away for many Americans. And our political process…
Why are radical Muslims opposed to the upcoming parliamentary election in Jordan?
Because they believe that democracy is in contradiction with Islam’s concept of the sovereignty of Allah’s law. They argue that Islam and democracy cannot go together, and they are obviously right, especially if one considers the experiences of people living under Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Thanks to the “Arab Spring,” which has seen the rise of Islamists to power in a number of countries, Muslim extremists today feel free to express their opinion on political and religious issues.
One of them, Abed Shehadeh, leader of the Salafi Jihadi movement in Jordan, ruled this week that democracy in its concept as “ruling of the people by the people” and “should be forbidden in Islam.”
Shehadeh, who is also known as Abu Mohammad Tahawi, explained that sovereignty and government belong to Allah alone and not to the people.
He said that the upcoming parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for January 23, were forbidden and contradictory to Islamic Shariah “because the parliament legislates laws and regulations that contradict Allah’s law.”
Shehadeh also criticized electoral programs presented by the candidates and lists. He said that the “the electoral slogans used by the candidates were “impossible to implement on the ground.”
He urged Jordanians to boycott the elections because “choosing legislators other than Allah is forbidden.”
The Salafi Jihadi leader’s call for boycotting the election does not seem to have fallen on deaf ears in Jordan, where many voters seem determined to boycott the vote.
Although it is banned in Jordan, the Salafi Jihadi movement has managed to recruit several thousand supporters over the past few years.
In April 2011, the movement held one of its largest demonstrations in the industrial town of Zarqa north of Amman. Eighty-three policemen were wounded, including four who were stabbed by Salafis.
It now remains to be seen whether the Salafi Jihadists will resort to violence to prevent or foil the parliamentary election.
Jordanian security officials have expressed deep concern over the radical movement’s involvement in the civil war in Syria. Dozens of Jordanian Salafis have crossed the border to join various Islamist terror groups waging Jihad [holy war] against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s regime.
The Jordanians’ biggest fear is that when the Salafis are done with Syria, they will intensify their efforts to turn the kingdom into an Islamic state.
The Jordanian Salafis who are fighting in Syria are not seeking to install democracy. Nor are they seeking to enable Syrians to hold free and democratic elections to choose their representatives. As their leader, Shehadeh, explained, democracy and elections are forbidden in Islam.
The Salafis, like other radical Islamist groups, want to establish an Islamic empire and impose strict Shariah laws on Arabs and Muslims. They are convinced that sovereignty and “government should be only in the hands of Allah,” who has entrusted them with serving as his representatives and messengers on earth.
Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.
A model of society in which people are forced to worship is completely contradictory to Islam. In fact, it is not the threat of Islam but it is the threat of bigotry that concerns people. If true Islamic moral values were lived in the countries in question, there would be painting, music, art, science, democracy and freedom of ideas and belief, and Christians and Jews as well as others would be enjoying their freedom in the truest sense of the word and living in peace and in safety.
Surely, one of the most debated topics of the day is how Muslims view Christians and Jews, the rights of religious minorites in Muslim-majority countries, and whether there can indeed be democracy, freedom of thought and freedom of worship in Muslim countries. The world is used to seeing people who claim to represent Islam as they preach hatred, promote violence and terrorism while implementing dictatorial regimes and rejecting democracy and civil liberties. But is this true Islam? Do these people faithfully express Islam as we know it from Scripture?
Much of the time, people researching such matters turn to individuals or ideas as a point of reference, and these individuals or ideas are not at all reflective of the true nature of Islam itself. This is a major mistake; it is especially important to differentiate between bigotry supported by the classical rightist propaganda and the true teachings of Islam. In order to shed some light on the matter, it is imperative to understand the outlook of Islam toward democracy and freedom from its source: the Holy Qur’an.
As a Muslim, when I see any pressure put on Christians and Jews, especially in some countries where a majority of the society is Muslim, I feel intensely disturbed about this situation. I would be delighted when people live, trade, travel and pray at ease. And every true Muslim would share the same feelings with me. On the other hand, when the leftists are under pressure, it is equally something that makes true Muslims very uneasy. Thus it is my goal to ensure that everyone lives in peace and lives by their own beliefs sincerely, and to reveal that the persecution perpetrated in the name of Islam is not Islam itself but bigotry.
The rights of religious minorities, or the rights of others are generally an issue of legitimate concern in countries with Muslim-majority populations. However, this concern owes to the fact that true Islam is not being practiced in the countries of concern. Some people who are genuinely unaware of the morality of Islam, or obtain information from innacurate or dubious sources may end up harboring several prejudices and erroneous convictions on this subject. These people assume, for instance, that Islam will limit their lives or freedoms, or perhaps attempt to control their very thoughts or restrict the arts and sciences. The simple fact of the matter is, however, that Islam is a religion that ensures all manner of intellectual freedom as well as the freedom of worship and expression, that takes as a serious matter the rights of those people enjoined under its protection. Indeed, in a model where genuine Islamic morality prevails, Jews and Christians would be in the utmost peace and people from all walks of life, be they Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, or nonbelievers -regardless of faith, culture or ideology- would be living in comfort as first-class citizens and enjoying their equal rights.
According to Islam, it is not only those who believe in God, but even those who be classified as idolaters are granted asylum and protection, and it is the responsibility of Muslims to ensure that they are allowed to live undisturbed and in peace as well. According to the Qur’an, Muslims are responsible to protect people who worship idols, as these people go from one place to another, even at the expense of their own life. This is an important criteria that Muslims must not be obstacles but rather guarantors of people’s safety and freedom. And Muslims have a God-given responsibility to establish the comfort for all people, whether they are Christians, Jews, Sahabbeans, pagans or else.
Islam forbids not only physical pressure but also the slightest coercion and removes the basis of discrimination. Thus Islam -in its purest form- is not a threat to freedom but the guarantor of freedom. God says “There is no compulsion in religion.” (Qur’an, 2:256) Even though some critical voices would bring forth various interpretations of this verse to oppose me, God’s statement in the Qur’an is quite explicit for a sincere Muslim and leaves no room for doubt. Imposition is incompatible with human honor and it is also prohibited in the Quran.
This is part IV in a series about the Likud’s Knesset list and its primaries, which were held November 25-26th. The previous articles (here, here, and here) dealt with the claims by the media that the Likud had, as a result of the recent primaries shifted to the extreme right. I explained how these claims were out of touch with reality: The Likud list remained very similar to that of 2008. Ideologically right-leaning candidates did very well, but so did non-ideological or media-acceptable candidates.
All in all, only five sitting Members of Knesset did not achieve “secure” spots on the list. The common denominator between all three was not a lack of extremism or Leftist policy (only two were supporters of Palestinian statehood), but a general lack of campaigning and public activism.
One claim made by some commentators, however, had some validity. It was that there was a “deal system” in place.
This is not unique to the Likud. It pervades the entire Israeli political system. Consider, for example, the fact that the government in Israel is formed through negotiations and haggling over ministries, budgets and policies. Contrast that with the U.S. system in which after the president is elected, he chooses his cabinet with the consent of the Senate and then presents a budget to congress for approval. There is much less haggling that goes on because the President has already one the election and his appointments can’t jeopardize that. Of course, negotiation, compromise and deals are inseparable from the political process, but in a party-list system, deal-making is the primary feature. (Note: a “party-list” system should not be confused with a parliamentary system, which can be a district/constituency system, a party-list system or a combination of the two).
The deal-making that some pundits referred to was the fact that certain candidates and power-factions in the Likud made cross-endorsement deals to ensure mutual success. Thus, for example, Moshe Feiglin and two high ranking, but non-ideological Likud members, Silvan Shalom and Yisrael Katz were reported to have made such an agreement. Gilad Erdan and Gideon Sa’ar were said to be working together. Other nationalist candidates like Yariv Levin and Kety Shitreet were also said to receive support from Feiglin.
Technically, candidates in a party primary are competitors, each one striving for more votes than the others in order to get a higher ranking on the party’s list of candidates for the parliament. Throughout most of their term, Members of Knesset in the same party are in fact locked in this sort of popularity contest. But come the primaries themselves, in practice, the candidates don’t remain in complete competition. At that point, candidates join together, either completely or to a limited degree, often in odd ways to ensure mutual success.
Because voters can choose a number of candidates – in the Likud primaries, voters could choose 12 national candidates and one district candidate – candidates can make cross-endorsement deals which will ensure those who are part of the deal receive a great deal more votes then they could have if they ran on their own.
Let’s say, for instance, that Candidate A has 2000 supporters within the party, while Candidate B also has 2000, and Candidate C has 3000. Candidates A and B can join forces, asking their supporters to vote for both of them, providing each of them with 4000 votes, beating out Candidate C even though he is more popular than each of them separately. With a total of 12+1 votes, the possibilities for deals between the candidates abound. Add to the mix interest groups who control large swaths of votes, who can not only support certain candidates but can trade support with other interest groups or candidates in exchange for votes for their favored candidate, the system becomes vastly more complicated.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/hadar/the-likuds-top-25-the-deal-system/2012/12/20/
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